Policy Mix or Policy Mess? A Systematic Review of Sustainability Governance in Brazilian Soy Production

Maje Müllenborn & Caroline Breinholt

Student thesis: Master thesis


This study explores governance surrounding Brazilian soy production and related deforestation in 2000-2019. We conceptualize the governance instruments at play in Brazil as a policy mix and apply Ostrom’s (1990/2015) eight design principles and self-governance concept, complemented by the concepts of polycentric, multi-level, and hybrid governance, to understand its strengths and weaknesses. Our research is undertaken through the lens of critical realism, which structures our understanding of deforestation triggers and the types of policies that can curb them. We conduct a qualitative case study, examining the policy mix through a systematic literature review of 56 articles. Our analysis reveals that the Brazilian policy mix faces various obstacles. These include conflicting objectives across the instruments; unsuccessful engagement of smallholders due to the pursuit of efficiency over equity, which limits devolution of responsibility; appropriators facing low benefits of compliance but high costs when adapting production to comply with governance; and finally, the incapacity to enforce legislation due to weak monitoring and sanctioning. We evaluate the Brazilian policy mix on the basis of six characteristics: coherence, consistency, credibility, comprehensiveness, stability, and adequacy. Based on these characteristics, we determine that the Brazilian policy is encumbered by incongruence, which helps explain the inability of the policy mix to control deforestation levels in Brazil in 2000-2019. Finally, we conclude that Ostrom’s design principles are an ideal tool to explore the Brazilian policy mix, however they are not able to fully encompass all dynamics. We elaborate upon Ostrom’s framework by suggesting the inclusion of hybrid governance initiatives. Our contribution to the literature lies in our interdisciplinary approach to the topic, where we combine scholarly articles from disciplines ranging from economics to ecology to more traditional political science. This approach allows us to adopt a more holistic approach to understanding the governance efforts in Brazil, by reconciling different approaches to the overarching goal of curbing deforestation.

EducationsMSc in International Business and Politics, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2020
Number of pages159
SupervisorsKristjan Jespersen